The 'Cannonball Run' Cast: Totally Awesome, Or Godawful?

By Rebeka Knott
Three for the road: Dean Martin, Roger Moore, and Burt Reynolds in 'The Cannonball Run' (1981). Source: IMDB

The 1981 film The Cannonball Run's cast list featured Burt Reynolds, Farrah Fawcett, Roger Moore, Jamie Farr, Peter Fonda, Terry Bradshaw, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Dom DeLuise. To put that another way: Bandit (from Smokey & The Bandit), a Charlie's Angel, James Bond, Klinger from M*A*S*H, Captain America from Easy Rider, a two-time Super Bowl MVP, 2/5 of the Rat Pack, and, well, Dom DeLuise. Throw in a young Jackie Chan, a young Adrienne Barbeau, country star Mel Tillis, Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder, Valerie Perrine, Bianca Jagger, and crusty Jack Elam and you've got the Cannonball Run cast list just about filled out. In the director's chair, you had Hal Needham, a former stuntman who really liked making movies where fast cars fly through the air.

What a smorgasbord of celebrity. What a rogues' gallery. What a dog's breakfast of Hollywood egos. With a cast list like that, the risk of disaster was high. Too many personalities, too much zaniness, too much partying. Could they follow a script? Wait, was there a script?

Yes, there was a script.

It's important to realize is that, at the time of The Cannonball Run, Burt Reynolds and Farrah Fawcett were at the height of their powers. Burt was just about the coolest dude in Hollywood, a handsome leading man with a devilish charm and a virile mustache, a bankable star of comedies and dramas, while Farrah Fawcett was the '70s swimsuit poster girl with hair that was the envy of every woman in America. Even if Terry Bradshaw couldn't act, Dean Martin and Sammy weren't going to take this seriously, Peter Fonda was going to be weird, Roger Moore might not be funny to Americans, Dom DeLuise would ruin takes just to make Burt laugh -- none of that turned out to be a problem. The Cannonball Run was an incredibly fun movie in 1981, and it holds up today.

Well, maybe that needs to be qualified: The Cannonball Run was incredibly fun then and holds up today assuming you like movies like The Cannonball Run. It's stating the obvious, but it's helpful to note that The Cannonball Run never had a chance with critics.